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Video Leaves Indelible Imprint on Community

Justice: Images of teen's violent encounter with police evoke troubling memories for residents. Many worry about what the future holds


Jay Ahmad, an Inglewood barber, knows how to handle cops. He says "sir" a lot. He explains he's a family man on his way home. "I know what they want to hear," said Ahmad, 24.

Ahmad has talked his way out of what's known on the streets as a face burn--having his face slammed on a hot car hood. So the recent videotape of Inglewood police beating a 16-year-old came as no surprise. Maybe the only surprise was his anger.

Ahmad is prepared to swallow the indignity of occasional rude treatment by police. However, he is also a father who wants to believe that years from now, the copper color of his son's skin will not influence police.

For one week, Inglewood captured the attention of the nation. Today, the throngs of reporters have moved on. But for many people such as Ahmad who live and work in the city of 130,000, the image of a white police officer manhandling Donovan Jackson, who is black, remains indelible.

For many, too, the videotape of the incident became a Rorschach, reflecting almost as much about the viewer as about the incident.

Remembering the Riots

When Tsering Thondup saw the video, he thought immediately of the riots sparked after the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney G. King.

Thondup, who was born in Tibet, lives above his used book and magazine shop in Inglewood. During the 1992 riots, he and other merchants took to the rooftops armed with guns and scared off would-be looters. His shop was not harmed.

"As soon as I saw the tape, it raised my hair," said Thondup, 52. "It immediately brought back memories of the L.A. riot."

Thondup was sickened to see how the boy was treated. And he became anxious about how the case would unfold. On the tape, it seemed very clear, he thought, that Jackson posed no threat.

What if the officers were nonetheless acquitted? He sighed, thinking over the question that he'd asked himself. He would, he supposed, take to the rooftop again.

"You can't live your life in fear," he said. "I learned from the last riot. Life has to go on."

As soon as the video of Jackson aired on national television, Elizabeth Shapiro's daughter called from New York, pleading with her mother to come visit. "You are the wrong color to live in Inglewood," Shapiro's daughter told her.

"When we first moved to Inglewood, I was the wrong religion," quipped Shapiro, 86, who has lived in Inglewood for 54 years.

Shapiro and her husband chose to move to Inglewood in 1948 because of its school system. They didn't realize they would have a tough time finding a real estate agent who would sell to a Jewish family. They eventually purchased a three-bedroom house, built in 1926, that Shapiro still lives in.

Over the years, the city's population changed. In 1960, Inglewood was 96% white. Two decades later, less than 5% of the city's population was white. But Shapiro stayed.

Shapiro had been attending medical school in Vienna when Hitler invaded. Her father was taken to a prison camp in Auschwitz. She'd been the last of her family to reach the United States, arriving on a banana boat in a convoy of ships dodging bombs.

She pooh-poohed her daughter's words of caution. Sure, her shop had been looted and burned down once. Sure, she'd been mugged once. But Inglewood was home.

And in the days since the videotape of Jackson aired, Shapiro has continued her usual 1 1/2-mile walk to her knitting shop. One recent afternoon, Shapiro presided over a group of five regulars, black women whose ages ranged from 65 to 82. The women knit, sitting for hours around a metal table, drawn by Shapiro's expertise and the companionship of women who know each other well enough to remember names of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Talk Turns to Video

A degenerative eye disease has left Shapiro blind in one eye. Squinting with her good eye, Shapiro worked her way around the table, undoing snafus, ripping out problems. Until the talk turned to Donovan Jackson, Shapiro was constantly in motion. As the knitters began discussing the case, Shapiro halted.

"I was revolted," she said. "It was inhuman. They picked him up like a rag doll."

Heads nodded. Needles clicked.

"I could have picked him up better than that and held him until he calmed down," said Connie Campbell, a retired airport security guard. "They were big, strong men; he was just a little, skinny boy."

Nickelena Smith, 80, looked up from the beige shell she was knitting.

"That's abuse," sighed Smith, a retired airport custodian who has 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Heads nodded. Needles clicked. Shapiro reminded the knitters that the officer seen on tape punching Jackson had alleged that the teen grabbed his testicles. Shapiro was skeptical of the claim.

Campbell harrumphed. When her son, now an adult, was a teenager, he'd been beaten by police in Hawthorne, she said. When she saw the video of Jackson, she couldn't help but think of her own boy.

"That boy didn't grab nothing," said Campbell. "If you've got five police officers, whether that boy was resisting arrest or not, those men could have picked him up and put him in the car."

Across town, Ahmad shaved and clipped a young man's head, giving him a close-cropped haircut that he calls a shadow-fade.

Ahmad talked about what happened to Donovan Jackson with a measured tone while his scissors flashed.

"The boy was in handcuffs; you can't beat him up because he made you mad," said Ahmad. "That's vengeance."

But Ahmad hopes for a just resolution.

"We have a black mayor and a black police chief," said Ahmad, "that could have been their son."

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